GEARING UP: Trinidad and Tobago bowlers, legspinner Samuel Badree, left, and mystery off-spinner Sunil Narine, take a break during the national team's training session at Queen's Park Oval, Port of Spain yesterday. Narine recently returned from the Australian Big Bash League to join T&T ahead of the 2013 Caribbean Twenty20, which bowls off tonight, with the hosts taking on Jamaica in the opening match at the Oval from 8 p.m. –Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

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STRONG START

T&T look for opening win against Jamaica in CT20

By Roger Seepersad

The stage is set for the fourth and final edition of the Caribbean Twenty20, and apart from Ravi Rampaul's late pull out, defending champions Trinidad and Tobago have everything going in their favour as they take on Jamaica in the opening match at Queen's Park Oval, Port of Spain from 8 p.m. tonight.

T&T have home advantage. They have six World Cup-winning players in their ranks for the opener, minus the injured Rampaul and Kieron Pollard, who will join the team on Monday.

Even history is on their side; Jamaica have never beaten T&T in the three previous editions of the Caribbean T20 tournament.

All match-winners in their own right, Samuel Badree, Denesh Ramdin, brothers Dwayne and Darren Bravo, opener Lendl Simmons and mystery spinner Sunil Narine were all part of the West Indies team that defeated Sri Lanka to lift the ICC World T20 trophy last year.

All T&T will be hoping for now is for good weather at the Oval, as they try to capitalise on their four home matches before they have to travel to St Lucia for the second leg of the tournament next week.

Denesh Ramdin's men will be confident about tonight's outing; they beat Jamaica in the third place play off in the inaugural tournament at the Oval in 2010, as well as the 2011 semi-final in Barbados, and in last year's tournament decider.

This year, Denesh Ramdin's men will be looking to maintain that dominance, as they seek a hat-trick of Caribbean T20 titles.

The pressure is now on Ramdin's team to deliver.

The Express caught up with T&T all-rounder Kevon Cooper during the team's final practice session at the Oval yesterday, and according to him, T&T are well aware of what is expected of them, and they are looking to take their performance to the next level.

With the memories of their early Champions League T20 exit still fresh in their minds, Cooper says T&T will not take anything for granted. Even though they have dominated the Jamaicans in the past, he insisted that the hosts are expecting a big challenge from their opponents on the opening night.

Cooper said: "We have beaten them in the last final, and I think they have something to prove. They will be coming hard as us. We are the defending champs for the last two years, and I think everybody will want to have the opportunity to go to the Champions League.

"There is a little bit of pressure on us, playing at home. We have the so-called big name players as you say, but we know what it takes to come out there and perform. We have been on the stage so many times before and we know what it takes to perform in front of a big crowd, and we know what Trinidad and Tobago are expecting of us so we are up for it.

"We will not be taking them (Jamaica) lightly. Our players are here...(Dwayne) Bravo and Sunil (Narine)...unfortunately Ravi is not with us, but Pollard will be here from the second game, and I know the guys are looking forward to Jamaica [tonight] in front our home crowd.

"We have a good chance of winning this Caribbean T20," the all-rounder added.

Jamaica's captain Tamar Lambert is optimistic about his team's chances, and believes his players are ready for the competition after they had an extended period of preparation.

"For the past six or seven weeks we have done a lot of work, and I think in comparison to previous years, we are more mentally and physically ready for the challenge," said Lambert.

"It is just for us to go out there and show what we have learnt in practice, and, in the end, demonstrate to Jamaica that we can play good T20 cricket by winning the tournament," the Jamaican skipper added.

Jamaica also have some match-winning potential in their ranks, with the top wicket-taker from the 2012 tournament, left-arm pacer Krishmar Santokie, leading the way.

West Indies all-rounder Andre Russell, Danza Hyatt, Dave Bernard Jr and Lambert will also add experience to Jamaica's batting lineup, which will be missing West Indies batsmen, opener Chris Gayle and T20 World Cup hero Marlon Samuels who are currently in Australia for the Big Bash T20 League. Left-arm spinner Nikita Miller is also a dangerous customer. A loss on opening night will not mean the end of either team's campaign, but it will make qualifying for the final a bit tougher.

The top team after the round robin stage will automatically qualify for the final, while the second and third place teams will enter a play-off to determine who gets the other final berth.

The tournament bowls off with the opening ceremony at the Oval from 5 p.m.

SQUADS

T&T: Denesh Ramdin (captain), Darren Bravo, Samuel Badree, Dwayne Bravo, Kevon Cooper, Rayad Emrit, Shannon Gabriel, Jason Mohammed, Sunil Narine, Yannick Ottley, Evin Lewis, William Perkins, Kieron Pollard, Lendl Simmons.

Jamaica: Tamar Lambert (captain), David Bernard Jr., Nkrumah Bonner, Odean Brown, John Campbell, Sheldon Cotterell, Yannick Elliott, Danza Hyatt, Andre McCarthy, Jamie Merchant, Nikita Miller, Andre Russell, Krishmar Santokie, Aldane Thomas.

Caribbean T20 match schedule (At Queen's Park Oval, Port of Spain, Trinidad) Sunday, January 6 Trinidad & Tobago vs Jamaica – 8 p.m. Monday, January 7 Barbados vs Leeward Islands – 4 p.m. Guyana vs Combined Campuses & Colleges – 8 p.m. Tuesday, January 8 Jamaica vs Barbados – 4 p.m. Trinidad & Tobago vs Combined Campuses & Colleges – 8 p.m. Wednesday, January 9 Windward Islands vs Jamaica – 4 p.m. Trinidad & Tobago vs Leeward Islands – 8 p.m. Thursday, January 10 Combined Campuses & Colleges vs Windward Islands – 4 p.m. Guyana vs Barbados – 8 p.m. Friday, January 11 Leeward Islands vs Jamaica – 4 p.m. Combined Campuses & Colleges vs Barbados – 8 p.m. Saturday, January 12 Windward Islands vs Leeward Islands – 4 p.m. Trinidad & Tobago vs Guyana – 8 p.m. (AT BEAUSEJOUR CRICKET GROUND, Gros Islet, St. Lucia) Tuesday, January 15 Guyana vs Jamaica – 4 p.m. Windward Islands vs Trinidad & Tobago – 8 p.m. Wednesday, January 16 Combined Campuses & Colleges vs Leeward Islands – 4 p.m. Barbados vs Trinidad & Tobago – 8 p.m. Thursday, January 17 Leeward Islands vs Guyana – 4 p.m. Windward Islands vs Barbados – 8 p.m. Friday, January 18 Combined Campuses & Colleges vs Jamaica – 4 p.m. Windward Islands vs Guyana – 8 p.m. Saturday, January 19 Play-off: 2nd Place vs 3rd Place – 8 p.m. Sunday, January 20 Grand Final: 1st Place vs Winner of Play-off – 8 p.m.

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